Wednesday, September 7, 2011
They entered the Territories by water, on small light canoes. The canal was the easiest way to get close to the creatures, the vibrations of trucks or jeeps would wake them in their deepest chambers. As they approached the first coastal nests, she felt how vulnerable and small the canoes were. Minuscule. Dots on the horizon compared to the fully grown adult males snoring in the waves. How tiny they must look to anyone watching, like fruit flies. It was quiet in a way that suggested everything here was waiting, the tapping splash of the waves and the scrapes of the boats were the only noise.
They aren't really asleep all the way, he told them. They are never actually asleep, there is always one eye opened, like a cat. But they are starting to grow roots at this age, and we are betting that we are too small for them to bother getting up for. This was hardly comforting.
As they reached further inland, floating silently, bobbing along with the current, the population grew denser. Here, towards the center of the nests, were the teenagers. Grown up, but not yet seeking out their own patches of land along the river, they crowded around each other, still not independent of the touch of family. They were surprisingly sleek. It is getting dangerous, he warned them, but she couldn't resist letting her canoe get just a little closer to the shore, to marvel at the curve of their great muscles and bones and necks.
The whole party had gotten a little bolder by then, feeling the high of the conqueror, the adrenalin starting to flush up their cheeks. The guide tried to hush them, but when the first comment said out loud in a regular voice elicited no reaction from the giants, the whole class was soon talking full speed among themselves. I heard they can live for centuries, said one elderly gentleman from Minnesota who was touring with his towheaded adult son, that means some of these animals were here before the Territories were even settled the first time! The group shook its head in uncomprehending awe.
The First Settlers, she thought, must have been brave as all shit to come up the rivers and see these things and think, sure why not stay? She knew that the laughter of the others was coming from fear, because she could feel it settling in her chest like a lead heavy tumor. What dreams they must have had, sleeping in tents in the shadows of the Giants! Dreams of planets crashing into each other, mountains falling down, great landslides and caves. She wondered how many had run out in the middle of the night to hand himself over to a Giant, succumbed to their ever present hypnotic pulse of Come Here Come Inside Come Here Come Inside. She could feel the itch in her fingers to reach out and touch one.
No matter how pretty they looked now, sleeping in the fading September sun, she could see the oncoming storm clouds creeping on the edge behind them dark, and she could not forget what had happened to those First Settlers. It was a preserve now, but once it had been a place they had failed to take over.
Few other creatures lived among the Giants. They spotted and kept far away from the River Snakes, and he even pointed out a rare camouflaged Terminal living on the edges of the nest, spreading it's thick tentacles out around it, the air purring with it's pleasure at being alone and untouched. What else could a happy Terminal ask for, but to be left alone to grow bigger and wilder? A Terminal would take over an entire continent if given the chance.
As the group started the river loop to the outer edges, the stragglers and banished leaders became visible. Unwelcome in the nest either from power struggle or injury, these were the truly dangerous ones, and each canoe stayed as close to the center of the canal as they could. A gutted Giant growled at them from right at the waters edge, bricks spewing from its lungs in unsatisfied dormant rage. The man from Minnesota was quiet, and his son turned a whiter shade of pale, which she didn't think was possible in the people from the Snow Lands. The group paddled just a bit faster.
The skies were terrible now, shades of gray blue and purple all boiling and rolling in. The temperature dropped ten degrees, so that now she regretted not wearing her parka. We are lost, she whispered, he has taken us around this loop already. They are going to notice. We are going to die here. I'm going to freeze to death trapped on this river by ravenous monsters.
It was, a bit, dramatic of her.
But when finally, after what seemed like an hour in the freezing bursts of rain and wind, they finally reached the mouth of the river and emptied into the lake, she found she couldn't bear to leave the sight of them, standing tall and powerful and unrelenting, guarding their coastline and their own little patches of kingdom, each parcel fought for with tooth and nail. So powerful and huge, and yet so pedestrian, bourgeois, middle class in their concerns. Do they think of anything else besides territory and food and family? Do they look at us coming and going, and wonder where we are disappearing to?
They reminded her of ex boyfriends. And land wars.